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That Ugly House

John had a beautiful view of Mount Baker from his house. For years, he had been enjoying the sunrise over that mountain every morning, each time feeling a rush of gratitude and intimacy with the Creator.

So when his new neighbor decided to build his house on the one spot of their acreage that would block that view, John was mad. 

“Some nights, I would just go out alone on our land and yell,” said John. “But around people I’m a quiet kind of guy, so I never went over to confront them or anything.” He shrugged his big shoulders and smiled. “I just avoided them altogether.”

As Multiply’s First Nations Ambassador for Western Canada, John Johnstone and his wife, Jenn, seek to build bridges and champion conciliation between those who are estranged or hostile toward one another. John realized that a posture of resentment and unforgiveness toward his neighbor was at odds with that calling. But somehow John just couldn’t bring himself to cross the lane that divided them.

John realized that a posture of resentment and unforgiveness toward his neighbor was at odds with his calling.

“They wrecked my view,” he said. “I didn’t want to know them; I didn’t even want to see them. Then our kids started hanging out and playing together.” He grimaced, remembering. “That made me even madder.”

One day, John’s wife told him that their neighbor was very sick. The man had cancer. John recalls feeling sad, thinking about the wife and young children that would be left behind if he died. Then John clearly sensed the Creator challenging him. 

“Hey, John?”

“Yeah, God?”

“So, I want you to pray for your neighbor, okay?”

“Sure,” John replied, nodding. “I’ll do that.” A second passed, then God spoke again.

“No. I mean, go pray for him now, face to face.”

John bristled. “I’ll tell you what, God. Let’s make a deal. You bring him to me in the next five days, then I’ll pray for him to be healed. But there is no way I am crossing that lane. I am not going down to that man’s house!”

The days went by, and each time John drove onto his property he glanced across the field at what he called That Ugly House. He felt a little guilty. “But mostly I was still mad,” he confessed. “I missed my great view.” 

Then on the fifth day as John was walking down the lane that marked the boundary of his land, he saw his neighbor walking toward him on the other side of the fence. Slowly, painfully, the man drew closer, then looked up and saw John. They both stopped, face to face, silent. Ok, God, John thought. You win.

“So,” John said, “I hear you got cancer.”

“Yeah, I do,” the man replied.

“That sucks.” John took a deep breath, then went on. “So, I don’t know what it’s like on your side of the fence,” he said, “but here on my side of the fence we believe in Jesus.”

“Oh, yeah?” The man lifted his eyebrows questioningly.

“Yeah,” John said. “And I think God told me that I’m supposed to pray for you. But,” he added hastily, “if you don’t want me to, that’s really okay.”

John’s neighbor nodded slowly. “No, that would be great. You can pray.”

At that moment, John glanced across the field. To the view that once was. He asked himself if he really cared more about a beautiful view than about this man and his family. John thought about the prophet Jonah and felt a great but ironic empathy with that reluctant prophet. Examining his own heart, he asked himself, “Do I really want this man to be healed?” Yes, he decided. He really did.

John looked for the words to pray. His heart was filled with different emotions. He felt messed up inside. Then he felt the Creator ask him, “John, what would you say if this was your own son? Pray that way.” 

“I prayed that the man would be healed—and not just a little bit healed, but fully healed. Then I said goodbye and walked away.” 

So he did. “I prayed that the man would be healed—and not just a little bit healed, but fully healed. Then I said goodbye and walked away.” 

It would be months before John saw his neighbor again. Then one day, he noticed that there was a gathering of people in the yard of That Ugly House, and John thought that they must be drunk. They certainly seemed to be in a happy, party mood. Then the neighbor’s wife came out of the house and saw John across the lane. 

“Hey John! Did you hear?” she yelled, giddy and grinning. “My husband just got his test results back. He is cancer-free! Your prayer worked!”

“That was ten years ago,” John concluded his story. “My neighbor is still healed. That Ugly House is still there. It still blocks my view. I still get kinda mad about that sometimes. But now I know that it was God that blocked my view, so I would see what really mattered.”

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